Liberals boost loans for canola farmers, seek new markets for product blocked by China

Canola farmers are getting a boost to a federal loan program as China continues to block imports it claims are contaminated with pests.

Trade Minister Jim Carr to lead trade mission to Japan, South Korea

Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, and Jim Carr, Minister of International Trade Diversification, announce new measures to help canola farmers. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Canola farmers are getting a boost to a federal loan program as China continues to block imports it claims are contaminated with pests.

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr announced Wednesday that the government will more than double the maximum amount of money available to individual producers under the Advance Payments Program (APP), from $400,000 per year to $1 million.

"These measures will give canola farmers the support they need to manage their cash flow," Bibeau told a news conference on Parliament Hill.

The increase will be available to all Canadian farmers. For canola producers, the interest-free portion will be increased to $500,000 from $100,000.

Bibeau said the federal government, in partnership with provinces, has extended the application deadline for an income stabilization program. Farmers will now have until July 2 to take part in the Agristability program.

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China has blocked Canadian canola from Richardson International and Viterra, two of Canada's biggest exporters, saying that shipments were contaminated with pests. Canadian politicians have insisted there is no basis for that claim.

Bibeau said farmers often face tremendous pressures, and trade uncertainties can add to stress and mental health issues.

"We encourage farmers in need never to hesitate to reach out for help," she said.

Carr also announced he will lead a trade mission in early June to Japan and South Korea and will engage with other countries as the federal government looks for new markets for Canadian canola.

"It's critical that Canadian exporters have other readily available markets when faced with trade disruptions," he said.

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Bilateral tensions have been running high since China detained two Canadians — actions widely seen as a response to Canada's detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of the U.S.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has raised concerns about China's detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, insisting that Beijing's decision to arrest the two Canadians was arbitrary.

Today, he said the issue is a complex one with geopolitical implications.

"We continue to work very, very hard on how we move forward, mostly in standing up for Canadians as we've done to date," he said.

Trudeau tweeted that he had "good calls" with Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney last night to explain what the government is doing to secure market access and help canola farmers.

Kenney said Trudeau "helpfully informed" him of the federal actions.

"I thanked the prime minister on behalf of Alberta farmers," he said.

Moe said the program changes give producers "breathing space," adding that the focus now must be on getting China to the table for a conversation on how to return to a "fruitful trading relationship."

Conservative MP Erin O'Toole said beefing up the loan program will help farmers in the short term, but called it a "stop-gap" measure because it won't address the underlying market access issue.

"The Trudeau government has allowed our diplomatic situation with China to descend into chaos, where we're not sure what commodity could be at risk next," he said.

Earlier this week, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer held a news conference outlining steps the government should take to ease the crisis, including enhancing the loan guarantee program, immediately appointing an ambassador to Beijing and launching a challenge at the WTO.

He also said Canada should pull its $256 million funding to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

O'Toole said it's time to take stronger action.

"We should not be funding priorities of the Chinese state when the Chinese state is using our citizens as hostages," he said.

Jim Everson, president of the Canola Council of Canada, called the action "good news" for producers dealing with unprecedented uncertainty.

Largest market 'effectively closed'

"With our largest market for canola seed effectively closed, it's important for everyone that producers can pay their bills while efforts are made to resolve the issue," he said in a statement.

Everson said it's an ideal time for Canada to seek other customers and develop new markets by building on trade agreements, especially in Asia.

Trudeau had promised Monday that help for canola farmers would be coming "in a few days."

"Canadians know, of course, as do people around the world, that Canadian food inspection and the quality of Canadian agriculture and produce is world-class, and the processes we have cannot be beaten anywhere in the world," he said.

The federal government is boosting loan guarantees to help Canadian canola farmers hurt by a trade dispute with China. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)